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Leather Pyrography 


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Leather Pyrography 

Written By: Betz White 


Woodburning tool (1) 
available at craft stores and 
woodworking shops 
(http .'//woodcraft, com, 
http:/ /rockier, com) in a range of types 
and prices. For under $20. I bought a 
basic model with interchangeable tips. 
Fancier versions with heat regulators 
can cost upward of $40. Kits at 
http.V/tandyleatherfactory. com. 


• Leather item (1) 

such as a purse or belt: not "pleather" 

• Tracing paper (1) 

• Paper (1) 

to stuff the purse for stability 

• Pin (1) 

for doing a rough sketch of your design 
on the leather 

• Leather scraps (1) 
(http.V/brettuns village, com) 

• Leather finish (1) 
for sealing 

• Design (1) 

Sketch out a few design ideas on paper, 
or use my floral motifs. 


When I was in college for fashion design, we were assigned to create a garment using 
leather and suede. Working with animal skins presents certain challenges — you can't buy 

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Leather Pyrography 

continuous yardage, only hides; ripping out a seam leaves holes; it can't be ironed. I decided 
to come up with a way to make the plain cowhide a little more exciting as a "fabric." 

That's when I had the inspiration to get my hands on a woodburning tool and brand a design 
into the suede. Woodburning, or pyrography, is the process of drawing on wood by burning 
ines into its surface with a soldering iron-type tool. 

I was recently inspired to try the technique again, this time on a leather bag. By using this 
tool on leather or suede, you can decorate and personalize anything from belts to wallets to 
shoes. Swap out different tips to create a variety of detailed lines, or experiment with 
traditional drawing techniques such as shading, crosshatching, and stippling. You'll be 
surprised how much detail can be achieved and how addictive this technique can become! 

Select an item, such as a purse or 
other piece of leather, that you'd 
like to woodburn. You can pick up 
something secondhand or use an 
item you already have. 

Keep in mind that it's best to use 
vegetable-tanned leather and/or 
suede with a natural, unfinished 
surface. Lighter colors produce a 
higher contrast when burned, 
allowing for a more visible image. 

The woodburning tool gets 
very hot. Never leave it 
unattended; always unplug it if you 
walk away. Work in a well- 
ventilated area, and keep a dish 
with ice water nearby. If you burn 
yourself, cool your fingers in the 

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Leather Pyrography 

• Whether it's doodled line art or 
shaded dimensional shapes, draw 
whatever suits your style and the 
item you'll be woodburning. Fluid, 
organic forms tend to work best, 
rather than precise lines and 

• When you've settled on a design, 
sketch it onto a piece of tracing 
paper. Overlay the paper onto your 
leather to find the best placement 
of your design. 

# A dimensional item like a bag or 
purse should be stuffed with paper 
or fabric to give you a stable 
surface to work on. 

• Now, roughly sketch your design 
onto the item. With leather, you can 
lightly sketch by scratching the 
surface with a straight pin. If you're 
working with suede, try using a 
chalk wheel used for marking on 
fabric. Making a few indications of 
your design will help keep you on 
track once you start burning. 

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Leather Pyrography 

• Plug in the woodburning tool and let 
it heat up. Get a feel for the tool by 
practicing on some scrap leather or 
suede. If you don't have any 
scraps, do a trial on an old pair of 
leather shoes you're planning to 
donate to charity. 

• Top-grain leather reacts 
differently than suede 
leather, and light colors differently 
than dark. Experiment with an 
assortment of tips to figure out 
which is best suited for your 

• After you've practiced, try out the 
woodburning tool on your selected 
item by making a small mark in an 
inconspicuous area such as a 
seam allowance or underside of a 
strap. If you like how it looks, 
proceed to the next step. 

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Leather Pyrography 

• Start out slowly, burning on your 
basic lines and elements. 
Gradually build up the line weight 
and add detail. 

• Keep your hand relaxed. Turn your 
work as needed for ease of 
drawing, resting the heel of your 
hand on the item to keep it steady. 

• When you're happy with the outcome, unplug the tool and admire your work. You can leave 
your leather project as-is, or protect it with a moisture-resistant finish made for leathers. 

This project first appeared in MAKE Volume 21 , page 131 

This document was last generated on 201 2-1 1 -03 1 2:30:30 AM. 

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